This is an issue which affects a number of his constituents and about which Tom feels there a clear moral obligation to protect leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, have been put in danger and should not have to front the cost of rectifying safety defects.
His statement is below:
‘FIRE SAFETY BILL AMENDMENT: Along with around 10 other Conservative MPs I have signed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would prevent leaseholders with being saddled with the costs of remediation works that need to take place to address fire safety issues relating to their building, more often than not to do with dangerous cladding (but not always). It should be either the freeholder or the builder who should pick up the tab for this not the leaseholder and I believe that the Government should provide certainty to leaseholders as soon as possible which is why I have signed this amendment.
As many of you will know, many Ipswich residents who are leaseholders have been impacted by this. St Francis Tower and Cardinal Lofts being two high profile examples but there are other examples across the Town, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Recently the “Ipswich Cladiators” group was established to represent leaseholders and I attended their inaugural meeting. The leaseholder is in no way to blame for any fire safety defects and therefore its morally wrong in my view for them to often be saddled with eye watering bills, often this also means that the values of their homes have plummeted. Following a debate that I took part in shortly after getting elected the Government did establish a £1 billion “Building Safety Fund” to help address the costs but this isn’t enough.
I understand why the Government wants to have it out with freeholders and builders about who should ultimately meet the costs here, but it shouldn’t be the leaseholders who are caught in the middle. I hope that over the coming weeks the Government will listen to what we’re calling for and provide leaseholders with the reassurance they need.’
Used an urgent question in Parliament today to raise the huge costs being faced by leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts by the Waterfront as a result of the dangerous cladding on their building. I’ve been in close contact with residents of Cardinal Lofts who’ve written to me about how they’ve essentially had a note slipped under their door by the management company telling them they now have to pay almost £400 per month per flat for a waking watch because of the fire risk. This is unacceptable when they weren’t responsible for putting this dangerous cladding up. Clearly the bill should be being slipped under the door of those who are responsible.
This is a huge amount of money and understandably it’s left leaseholders with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them. Especially as some I’ve spoken to have said their property price has already plummeted and many are under real financial pressure as it is because of Covid-19.
This is a fundamental issue of fairness and I’ve been raising the similar cladding issues affecting St Francis Tower in Parliament since soon after I was elected. But since then more and more buildings in Ipswich have had issues. And I called today on the Housing Minister to meet with me to discuss how we can provide residents at Cardinal Lofts with the certainty leaseholders need and deserve. The Government needs to look very closely at whether we can stop leaseholders being caught in limbo by providing the funding for cladding replacement up front, and pursuing the freeholders responsible for putting it up afterwards.
I’ve also been working with leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts to submit written questions asking the Government to look at direct support for leaseholders with the cost of waking watches and other interim fire safety measures. The Government’s £1 billion Fire Safety Fund does help with cladding replacement costs (although I think it should go further) but it doesn’t cover incidental costs like waking watches before the cladding is removed.
I have meetings scheduled this week with Cardinal Lofts’ management company where I will raise the impersonal way residents have been contacted about these bills they face. And after my question today I’ll also be meeting with the Housing Minister again. I also hope to meet directly some of the leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts who’ve written in to me very shortly.
Whether it’s meetings, questions in Parliament like today, written questions or sending letters directly to Ministers, I’ll use every tool at my disposal to make sure leaseholders don’t have this cloud of uncertainty hanging over them for any longer.
Sometimes in Parliament it feels a little like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, but yesterday I again intervened twice in a debate on the removal of flammable cladding to call on the Housing Minister to step in immediately to eliminate the uncertainty and anxiety faced by leaseholders at St Francis Tower in Ipswich. Leaseholders in the tower have been harassed with life-changing bills for the removal of highly flammable cladding which they were not responsible for putting up.
I also made the point that the ongoing legal dispute between the current freeholder of St Francis Tower and the previous freeholder for the costs of replacing the cladding is an admittance in itself that one of them is responsible, not the leaseholders.
I raised this issue in a Westminster Hall debate in February and I’ve also recently written to the Secretary of State to set these concerns out in detail and make the case that current balance of power between leaseholders and freeholders is unjustly stacked in favour of powerful freeholders.
I remain in close contact with St Francis Tower leaseholders and I’ll keep fighting for leaseholders and residents of St Francis Tower in Parliament no matter how long it takes to get them the support they need.